A Little History of the TR-808

Today, on 8/08, please enjoy some reading about everyone’s favorite drum machine, the Roland TR-808. You probably recognize it from Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing, or the beginning of Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody.  Or from the album Kanye named after it. Regardless, there’s a lot to love and a lot to learn and a lot to listen to. I bet after all this you’ll start hearing it in places, even songs produced today. Like the other day I heard it in this Tennyson song.


Further reading/watching:





Nate and Charlie of Switched on Pop takes us through the song's musical, lyrical, and cultural history

Switched on Pop has become one of my favorite podcasts recently because of how deeply they explore small individual aspects of pop music, be it the musical and lyrical parallels between current hits, the evolution of a single artist (check out their masterful “The Oeuvre of Taylor Swift” episode), or the history of some lesser appreciated elements (e.g. sax).

In this episode Nate Sloan and Charlie Harding explore the origins of The Star Spangled Banner, where it came from (a British drinking song!) and how it’s evolved through avant-garde performances of it throughout the years.

Nicolas Bras demonstrates the acoustics of various PVC woodwind and brass instruments

We all know about Blue Man Group and their impressive percussion PVC instruments. But it turns out, as Nicolas Bras aptly demonstrates, the versatile plastic can also create convincing woodwind and brass instruments that, somewhat ironically, are neither wood nor brass (although as he points out, real life instruments can break those rules as well). It’s a real joy to watch him cobble together some pipes and make beautiful noise with them, but it’s also a great lesson in acoustics and a demonstration of the fact that it’s the way the air is vibrated, not the material of the instrument, that defines it. Highlight: That three-headed serpentine instrument he makes to play three notes at once.

Carolina Eyck goes over methods for playing and composing for an inscrutable instrument

Y’all know what a theremin is? It’s an early electronic instrument invented in the 1900s. You play it without touching it. It’s really popular for horror and sci-fi music sound effects (think alien spaceships), but people also play them beautifully as musical instruments, as Carolina Eyck demonstrates here. Highlights include Carolina’s own technique for hand movements that allow easy playing of a scale (since it’s hard on the instrument to pluck a note out of thin air), and a demonstration of some effects pedals that allow her to overcome the instrument’s monophony (it can only play one note at a time).

Blink-182 and other pop punk bands pronounce certain words very specifically. Where did that come from?

I used to wonder all the time why people’s singing accents were different from their speaking accents. It turns out that it’s a very complicated mess of tracing histories back through where different genres originated. If you’ve ever thought Blink-182 or any of their contemporaries sounded a bit silly, be prepared for more information than you thought you could take on how exactly that came to be. Highlight: Avril Lavigne, as a Canadian in an American-invented/British-influenced genre, has an accent that is…complicated.